UN lists Guyana among ‘shameful’ nations

-after alleged threats to prisoner who cooperated with visiting mission

Guyana has been listed among 38 “shameful” countries by the United Nations (UN)  after a prisoner at the Lusignan Prison was allegedly verbally threatened by prison officials for having cooperated with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which visited the facility in 2017 during its fact finding mission here.

Guyana has been lumped together with countries such as China, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Cuba for alleged instances of ill-treatment, detention, surveillance, and public stigmatisation targeting victims and human rights defenders.

According to the report of the UN Secretary General to the Human Rights Council, which was released on Wednesday, on October 18th, 2017,  the  Working  Group  of  Experts  on  People  of  African  Descent expressed concern  about alleged  reprisals  by  prison  authorities  and  guards  against an individual (name  withheld by the Working Group ) incarcerated at the Lusignan Prison.

The person, according to the report, was interviewed during their visit to Guyana in October, 2017. “They subsequently received information that the individual had been verbally threatened by the prison authorities and guards for having cooperated with them,” the report said.

Members of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which was established in 2002 by the Commission on Human Rights, visited Guyana last year and the prison was one of the facilities they visited.

The four-member team comprised Chairperson Michal Balcerzak from Poland, Sabelo Gumedze from South Africa, Ahmed Reid of Jamaica and Ricardo Sunga III of the Philippines.

In its statement following the visit, the group recommended that the Lusignan prison be closed down “without any delay and be replaced with facilities that meet international standards.”

“The inmates are kept in appalling conditions not fit for human habitation. The facility is located close to a landfill with foul odour coming from stagnant dirty water. The unhygienic conditions of the prison and associated health risks are of serious concern. Due to its wooden construction, the facility also poses a significant fire hazard. The Working Group found that the Prison clearly fell short of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules),” the team had said in its statement.

The Working Group was also concerned by reports of extra-judicial killings by the police over the past decades and the failure to effectively investigate and provide justice, including when people of African descent were targeted.

In its recommendations, it called for all prisons to be operated in accordance with international human rights obligations, including the Mandela Rules and that overcrowding of prisons and detention centres must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Measures must be taken to improve the infrastructure and hygienic conditions and make available the necessary material, human and budgetary resources to ensure that the conditions of detention are in conformity with minimum international standards,” the team had said.

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